| Article published Thursday, May 8, 2003|
2 pumps at Besse no good, firm says
Utility will repair or replace
By TOM HENRY
LISLE, Ill. - FirstEnergy Corp. left little
doubt yesterday about the status of two pumps essential for
protecting the region in the event of a major accident at
Davis-Besse: They’re inoperable.
The utility acknowledged
that flatly during a 31/2-hour meeting at the Nuclear Regulatory
Commission’s Midwest regional office west of Chicago. The utility
also updated regulators on its plans for addressing several of the
plant’s remaining design flaws that have been identified during a
FirstEnergy has known for weeks that a
pair of devices known as high-pressure injection pumps probably had
to be fixed or replaced before Davis-Besse resumed operation. The
company yesterday made it official by declaring them
The project is a big-ticket item that could
potentially add millions to the utility’s costs and leave the
beleaguered plant idle until at least mid to late summer, officials
Both pumps are precision-built units of 11
components that would be called upon to work in unison and inject
coolant water over the reactor if an accident occurred. The constant
circulation of water would be necessary to help keep the core from
FirstEnergy identified the problem in the fall while
doing an intensive study of lingering design issues.
company found bearings in the high-pressure pumps might fail if
clogged by debris that had passed through the containment sump. The
sump would suck coolant water off the containment building’s floor.
Rendering the pumps useless could create a scenario in which they
might not be able to recirculate sump water over the reactor core at
a critical time, officials have said.
Jim Powers, the plant’s
engineering director, told the NRC the pumps might have worked, but
the company grew concerned about them. It still hasn’t decided if
it’s going the repair or replacement route.
Lew Myers, chief
operating officer of the utility’s nuclear subsidiary, told The
Blade the decision will depend on results of an off-site lab
simulation likely to occur in a few weeks. A consulting firm hopes
to show that strainers it is designing for the pumps would filter
out fine debris and be self-cleaning.
FirstEnergy is on a
parallel path for new pumps in case the repair option hits a
It has signed an agreement to buy an unused pair of
high-pressure pumps built for a never-completed plant in eastern
Washington. Those pumps are a contingency: They aren’t the preferred
option because they would have to be retrofitted and downsized to
fit Davis-Besse, Mr. Myers explained.
"We believe either
option will provide adequate protection," Mr. Powers told the
Plant officials said they had 1,200 potential design
issues brought to their attention during the shutdown. Most have
been resolved. The remaining ones of greatest significance have been
grouped into four areas of concern - the high-pressure injection
pumps, the plant’s electrical distribution system, its air-operation
valves, and its emergency diesel generator, officials
Gary Leidich, the nuclear subsidiary’s executive vice
president, said the company has made a lot of progress, but that
there’s a "fair amount of work left to go" before
"We have really challenged the design documentation
of this plant. It’s been a robust challenge," he said.
Schrauder, support services director, told the NRC many of the
design issues stemmed from errant calculations, not necessarily
faulty equipment. Enough conservatism was built into the plant’s
systems to compensate for many of the flaws, albeit the timing for
some equipment might be off.
"We believe they would have
achieved their safety function. It just would have been later down
the road," he said.
Jack Grobe, NRC oversight panel chairman,
said the agency can’t assume that.
"I understand and accept
your statements," he told Mr. Schrauder, "but we don’t have the
capability to analyze them yet." He said the NRC has "multiple
additional weeks of effort" remaining with its
Davis-Besse has been idle since refueling began
Feb. 16, 2002. Three weeks later, employees found the reactor head
severely eroded, prompting investigations and leading to the
discovery of latent design issues.
For earlier stories
on Davis-Besse, go to www.toledoblade.com/davisbesse
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